The Cruise (Fiction – With Photo By Emilio Pasquale)

Well, I did it again… Emilio Pasquale (at Photos by Emilio) gave me this photo to write for December, but I’m a tad bit later than I hoped I’d be.  If you aren’t familiar with this collaboration, Emilio sends me a photo for inspiration and I write a story… my story follows immediately after the photo.  Oh, and if you aren’t familiar with Emilio’s work, you really should click the link above to check it out 🙂

Photo by Emilio Pasquale... story, by me
Photo by Emilio Pasquale… story, by me

“You can’t do it?” Nikki laughed.  “Oh, it’s too late to back out now, Laura.  A deal is a deal.”

I cleared my throat.  “Look, I had too much to drink and I over-committed myself.”

Nikki’s eyes narrowed as she handed me an envelope.  “The cruise leaves at five o’clock on Friday.  You’ll have about 24 hours to accomplish what you promised.”

“I just told you, I can’t do it.”

“You’ll get the $500 when you bring me proof that you took care of business.”

“Do you want me to bring his heart back in a box or what?”

Ignoring my sarcasm, Nikki smirked.  “No proof, no cash.”

“So when do I find out who he is?”

“You’ll know when you see him.”

I grunted.  “So that’s it?  Nothing else to go on?”

“Nope.”

“And why a cruise?  You know how I feel about boats.  And water.”

“Good thing it’s a ship then.”

I stared at the cruise ticket and itinerary in my hand.  “Fine.  I’ll do it.”  I stood and stomped from the restaurant, fuming that Nikki’s laughter taunted me all the way to the front door.

***        ***        ***

I’d learned a valuable lesson on New Year’s Eve that business and friendship didn’t mix, and deals should never be made over cocktails, behind the cloak of new years and fresh starts.  I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s how the corporate world had gotten so messed up.  My new policy is that alcohol should be consumed alone (if ever), and if others are present, complete silence is preferred.  I’d only had a few days to prepare, but somehow, I crossed the gangway fifteen minutes before departure; make-up and hair professionally done, wearing a knee-length party dress with enough sequins to make a dance mom envious.

I scanned the room and immediately realized I was over-dressed- as in wearing too much fabric.  I’d long suspected it, but this just proved that imagination had become endangered through evolution.  I remained determined to not let it go extinct.  I lifted my chin in protest, proud that I was not one reach away from a wardrobe malfunction.

The conflicting scents in the room made me dizzy.  Musk, floral, citrus- they all smelled like desperation to me.  But the dusting of glitter on too-exposed bodies made it pretty, I guess.  I winced.  Nikki might’ve been right:  I’m too sarcastic to socialize.  I reminded myself that this wasn’t a social event, per se.  I had a task to accomplish.  I shook my head to clear the perfumed thoughts and searched for anyone who appeared like they were looking for someone else.  Isn’t that everyone here? I wondered in frustration.

“Hey, sweetie.  Looking for someone?”

My nose involuntarily wrinkled as I turned toward the male voice right next to me.  I forced my gaze away from the silky sheen of his gelled hair; the lights literally glared off it.  I shook my head and stepped away.  “No.  Actually, I’m not.”  I almost laughed at the stunned effect of my honesty, so I walked away before he mistook the reaction as a come-on.  I happened upon a staircase leading to the upper deck.  As I climbed, I smiled; thankful I had sense enough to wear ballet flats rather than pinchy, strappy high heels.  They have rhinestones, I reminded myself, as if to justify my shunning of fashion.

I leaned against the railing that had been strung with white lights.  The golden lights from nearby vessels seemed magical against the backdrop of the darkening sky.  They almost made me believe in fairy dust, unicorns and love, but when I closed my eyes, I could still discern between fantasy and reality.  My shoulders slumped when the thought occurred to me that gazing at lights did nothing to complete what needed to be done.  I turned toward the stairwell and tried to make myself move, but my feet remained firmly planted.

Then I saw him and gasped.  It couldn’t be.  But his profile looked just like Chas Spencer, my ex-fiancé.  From a distance, one might view him as cunning, even clever.  But I knew better.  I knew there was no substance behind his too-white smile- or beneath the knock-off designer clothing and Calvin Klein boxer briefs- I could see the waistband peeking between the top of his slacks and the bottom of his untucked shirt when he leaned over to tie his shoelace.  I knew he tried to project the air of casual wealth, but the message I got was:  I’m broke and make bad decisions.  I spent all my money on underwear so I couldn’t afford a belt.

Certain he was the real deal and not a doppelganger; I became furious at Nikki and grew more determined than ever to succeed at what I came here to do.  More than the $500, I needed to prove Nikki wrong.  I could do this.

I would rather have been at home wearing fleece pajamas and eating Häagen-Dazs while watching movies on Netflix, but I pasted on my best smile in hopes of hiding my true feelings.

“Chas, is that you?”

His eyes widened.  “Laura!”  His gaze darted from one side to the other, and then back to me.

“Are you here with someone?”

“Well, uh, sort of.  Oh, man, this is awkward….”

My smile became more genuine.  I truly enjoyed watching him squirm.  “Oh, I’d love to meet her.  Where is she?”  I raised my eyebrows.  “It is ‘she’, right?”

“It’s a blind date.  I haven’t found her yet.”

“I think maybe you have.  Nikki sent me here.”

The color drained from his fake-tanned face.

I shrugged.  “Sorry dear, but it looks like it’s you and me tonight.”  I wasn’t really sorry.

“I-I was supposed to start the New Year with a fresh start.”

“Isn’t that kind of hard to do when you’re the same old you?”

He glared at me.

“Look, we’re stuck here, so we might as well make the best of it.”

“What’s your game?”

I tilted my head to the side.  “Game?”

“Yeah, when you found out I cheated, you told me to drop dead… and some other things.”

“You never did listen very well.  Hey, how about we get a drink?”

After several seconds of skeptical scrutiny, he headed to the stairway.  I followed and exhaled a relieved sigh.  Once upstairs, I told him I’d get the drinks.  He started to protest, but I pretended not to notice and walked away.

I handed him his usual: vodka gimlet.

“What did you get?”

“Rum and Coke,” I raised my voice so he could hear over the band that just started playing.  Minus the rum.

Fifteen minutes later, I plucked the empty glass from his hand.  “I’ll get you another.”  He didn’t argue.  His attention was focused on the band’s lead singer; a busty blonde sporting strategically placed swatches of black leather.  This is almost too easy.

After the fifth drink, I noticed it was almost midnight.  I asked, “Do you mind if I take our picture?  You know, for old time’s sake?”

He looped his arm around my waist and pulled me toward him.  I snapped the picture just as his lips landed on my cheek.  I extracted myself from his grip and offered to get him another drink.

I lost count of the drinks, but I was down about fifty dollars when I noticed Chas struggling to balance on the backless stool.  “I think you’ve had enough.  I’ll walk you to your room.”

He smiled; a sloppy grin.  “You just want to get me alone.”

“You got me figured out.”

Using me for balance, Chas managed to get to his room, falling only once.

“I need your room key.”

He leaned against the wall by the door.  “It’s in my pocket.”

I sighed.  “Which one.”

He winked.  “I don’t remember.”

Five hundred dollars, I reminded myself.  I guessed right and found the key in his left front pocket.

Chas fell onto the bed and pulled me on top of him.  I scrambled away.  “I need to use your restroom.”

“I’ll be right here, baby.”

His slurred words made my stomach lurch.  I stayed in the locked bathroom until I heard his rumbling snores.  I slipped out of the bathroom and searched the duffel bag by the bed.  I found what I needed and stuffed it into my purse. I ran from the room, relieved when the door latched behind me.

I did it.

***        ***        ***

“I don’t believe it,” Nikki said, mouth agape.

“I think you owe me $500.”

“I-I didn’t think you’d do it.”  Nikki handed me the envelope.

I lifted the flap and counted the bills, then shoved the envelope in my purse.

“You don’t trust me?”

I smiled.  “I used to.  Before you and Chas.”

Nikki stared at the table.  “I regret that.  I wanted to make things right again; to get you back together.”

“Not in this lifetime.”

She lifted her gaze, puzzled.

“Nothing happened.  After he passed out, I took a pair of underwear from his duffel bag.”

“You cheated!  The bet was that you had to spend the night with someone I set you up with.”

“No, you cheated. I just played your game and won.”  I smiled.  “And I did spend the night with him- a very long evening of observing who he really is.  You know, I hated you for what you did, Nikki, but you actually saved me.  I don’t know if I can trust you again, but I do forgive you.”

This time, I strode out of the restaurant in peace; leaving Nikki in stunned silence.

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

The obvious inspiration for the story was Emilio’s photo.  But I’ve had other stuff on my mind that may have affected the story that developed.  Mainly, I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness, and how hard it can be to reach that point where you can truly release a hurt and heal.  I also think when we’ve hurt someone, sometimes our attempts at “fixing” things are misguided (like Nikki), and might be more for the benefit of easing our own guilt, rather than for the person we’ve hurt.  Now, I’m thinking I just might think too much… so I’ll stop now 🙂

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful week!

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53 thoughts on “The Cruise (Fiction – With Photo By Emilio Pasquale)

  1. Timothy Price January 11, 2016 / 7:34 AM

    That was fun. Not the ideal way to get $500 but she did it.

    • jannatwrites January 11, 2016 / 7:37 AM

      I would agree with that, Timothy. Personally, no amount of money would be worth spending time with someone I didn’t want to be around. Maybe that’s why I don’t drink… so I’ll never commit to something like that, haha!

      • Timothy Price January 11, 2016 / 7:43 AM

        I’ve never been a partier or drinker. I was always the designated driver the few times I got talked into going to parties in my younger days. I witnessed too man stupid things said and down by people when they are drunk.

        • jannatwrites January 11, 2016 / 11:45 PM

          I haven’t been a partier, either… and I’ve seen way too much stupid to want to do it. I’ve joked around that I’m goofy enough without alcohol, but I’m kind of serious, haha

        • Timothy Price January 12, 2016 / 8:31 AM

          I know that goofy feeling.

  2. Tessa January 11, 2016 / 8:02 AM

    Another fine story from you Janna. I really thought for a minute that she meant to bring back the heart. LOL!

    • jannatwrites January 11, 2016 / 11:46 PM

      That was a bit of sarcasm there. I edited a bit to maybe communicate that better 🙂 Thanks for reading, Tessa!

  3. Debbie January 11, 2016 / 9:18 AM

    Ooh, good story, Janna, and I’m thrilled to see you tackling Emilio’s photo challenges again! I didn’t know where this story was headed, but you’ve captured well the emotions involved. With friends like Nikki, who needs enemies?! Guess Laura is a bigger person than I might be in the same circumstances, ha!

    • jannatwrites January 11, 2016 / 11:48 PM

      Thanks for reading, Debbie! The good thing about age is that I’ve learned revenge is never as satisfying as I thought it would be. I have ended up feeling guilty instead, which is no fun at all.

  4. Deborah January 11, 2016 / 9:49 AM

    Lots to think about there. He wanted to get them back together, my ass! 😉 Great story. It kept me captivated all the way to the end. I loved “minus the rum” 🙂

    • jannatwrites January 11, 2016 / 11:49 PM

      You’re funny, Deborah! I figured I needed to add that- since she supposedly learned her lesson with alcohol 🙂

      • Deborah January 12, 2016 / 5:22 AM

        Yes! It was perfect, because she wanted him to think that she was joining him with the drinking, but letting the reader know that she was being consistent with her knowledge of herself. 🙂

  5. nrhatch January 11, 2016 / 10:36 AM

    What great “revenge” . . . Laura “cheated” the cheaters. :mrgreen:

    • jannatwrites January 11, 2016 / 11:50 PM

      And she did it fairly, too 🙂 Thanks for reading, Nancy!

  6. Emilio Pasquale January 11, 2016 / 11:05 AM

    When I first read this story I read into it so much of your own personal story. Little bits and pieces. Hope everything is getting back to normal- or a new normal. 2016 is here and all I want is good things for you! Well that’s what I want for the entire world but that may be too much to ask for. And your story: of course I love it. At first, I really thought she was supposed to kill him, the way you wrote it. Much better this way. And those sentences that add so much, like; “…imagination had become endangered through evolution.” And nowadays I can afford a belt, since I’m married and don’t have to always have designer underwear on. 🙂 A great job. Forgive, maybe. But never forget!

    • jannatwrites January 11, 2016 / 11:53 PM

      I don’t know what normal will be, Emilio, but I’m pretty certain it’s not how things are at the moment. At the end of the month, I have the divorce trial and I have to be out of my house. Then for a few days, I’ll be between houses. If all goes well, I’ll be in my new house and can get settled after that. I should be packing, but I’ve been reading blogs tonight… that’s so messed up! I was hoping the first part would lead the reader to think it was a ‘hit’ situation (I like twisty plots, when they work). Forgiveness is good, but forgetting can be dangerous.

      • Emilio Pasquale January 12, 2016 / 1:32 PM

        Agreed on all counts! One can never forget. The divorce trial should be a new beginning- no matter what the outcome you make the best of the decision and move on from there. I know it’s easy for me not knowing what’s up for grabs. I wish I could tell you how many things have happened in my life that I had to learn to accept somehow. Maybe that’s what life is all about. Anyway, hang in there!

        • jannatwrites January 20, 2016 / 11:29 PM

          Thanks for the encouragement, Emilio. It’s been a tough week and I’ve struggled to keep my patience with the stupidity. My schedule hasn’t afforded me time to go run and burn off the frustration, but if I can hang on til the weekend, I’ll have my chance 🙂

  7. joannesisco January 11, 2016 / 1:09 PM

    Wow – this one had all kinds of surprise turns! The writing was priceless with phrases like “with enough sequins to make a dance mom envious” and “imagination had become endangered through evolution” 🙂 Your writing always entertains.

    • jannatwrites January 11, 2016 / 11:54 PM

      I’m glad it was unexpected, Joanne! I amused myself a couple times when writing this. I probably should get out more, haha!

  8. Nita January 11, 2016 / 2:23 PM

    Great story, definitely kept my interest. I too really liked the ‘minus the rum’ and the bit about imagination being endangered. May 2016 bring you happiness.

    • jannatwrites January 11, 2016 / 11:55 PM

      Thanks so much for reading, Nita! I’ve written some heavier stuff lately, so it was nice to go a little on the light and fun side 🙂

  9. Eric Alagan January 12, 2016 / 12:42 AM

    Marvelous story and especially loved this line “a busty blonde sporting strategically placed swatches of black leather” – It ain’t empty, it’s half full, sorta… or is it the other way around 🙂

    • jannatwrites January 20, 2016 / 11:20 PM

      Haha, thanks for stopping by and sharing your humor, Eric! It’s good to see some posts from you again – hope you are doing well 🙂

  10. Björn Rudberg (brudberg) January 12, 2016 / 1:44 AM

    Hi actually in the end the 500 dollars was the least important… I think she’s ready to go on. What a great story… I really miss your storytelling.. there will be something new coming up at dVerse on January 18 that might be interesting… if you have the time.

    • jannatwrites January 20, 2016 / 11:21 PM

      You got it, Bjorn- sometimes it’s more about getting a sense of closure (but a little bit of cash never hurts, haha). Thanks for the nice comment about the story. I’ll see if I can check out the dverse…. I have to be out of my house in less than 2 weeks, so maybe it’s something I can do while procrastinating with packing 🙂

  11. Anita Kushwaha January 12, 2016 / 9:11 AM

    I loved this story, Janna! I felt triumphant at the end of it and wanted to shout, “Yes!” along with the protagonist. I’ve also thought a lot about forgiveness over the past year or so, and your line resonated with me: “I don’t know if I can trust you again, but I forgive you.” Looking forward to your next collaboration with Emilio and have a wonderful week! 🙂

    • jannatwrites January 20, 2016 / 11:27 PM

      Thanks, Anita! Forgiveness is interesting to me because just because we forgive someone, it doesn’t mean we have to keep them in our lives. But when we move on without forgiveness, the weight of it stays with us. Well, it does me, at least 🙂 I appreciate the encouraging words. I think we’re looking at March for a new story as I should be settled in my new home by then.

      • Anita Kushwaha January 21, 2016 / 3:42 PM

        I completely agree. I used to think forgiveness meant I had to keep people in my life and it was so freeing to give myself permission to walk away in peace and goodwill instead, if ever I needed to. I’m looking forward to your next collaboration. And sending lots of good vibes for the move. Wow, exciting times! 🙂

        • jannatwrites February 17, 2016 / 12:18 AM

          Thanks, Anita! There is a freedom in knowing we can walk away without the baggage – we don’t have to allow someone to pull us under. The hardest part is letting go of the baggage (i.e., not holding a grudge!)

        • Anita Kushwaha February 17, 2016 / 2:32 PM

          Oh so true! I can admit to not having that one totally figured out yet, ha ha. 😉 Although it is getting easier. I guess it depends on the situation and who’s involved. All in all, though, a great place to get to eventually. Hope you’re doing well! 🙂

        • jannatwrites March 6, 2016 / 10:33 PM

          Thanks, Anita. I’m hanging in here…. but I’m really behind on reading and writing!

        • Anita Kushwaha March 11, 2016 / 7:38 AM

          I hear ya, it can really take a backseat when life is busy. I hope you’re able to find some writing time soon and that it’s a refuge. 🙂

  12. Widdershins January 12, 2016 / 7:43 PM

    I was thinking more along the lines of body parts, not undies! Nicely done. 🙂

    • jannatwrites January 20, 2016 / 11:39 PM

      That’s exactly what I was hoping the reader would think, Widdershins 🙂 Thanks for taking time to read it!

  13. mbarkersimpson January 12, 2016 / 11:50 PM

    I always enjoy your stories, and I loved the humour of this piece – especially Laura’s wit. It was great that she came out on top of that situation – despite everything she went through! 😀

    • jannatwrites January 20, 2016 / 11:40 PM

      Thanks, Mel! I’m glad you stopped by to read it and liked the story. I think I was a different sort of mood when I wrote it 🙂

  14. diannegray January 16, 2016 / 2:32 PM

    Great story, Janna! I love those twists and turns 😀

    • jannatwrites January 20, 2016 / 11:42 PM

      Thanks, Dianne – I appreciate you reading it!

  15. agjorgenson January 16, 2016 / 10:07 PM

    That read so very well! I really had no idea where it was headed, but it was all very plausible and engaging. Keep up the good work!

    • jannatwrites January 20, 2016 / 11:43 PM

      Thanks, Allen! I wasn’t sure about parts of the story, so I’m glad it seemed to work here 🙂

  16. Kathy Combs (@KathyCombs16) January 19, 2016 / 7:25 AM

    Your stories are always so engaging. They pull me in and this one was no exception. Considering the history, I am impressed she kept her head. She was cool and calculating. Loved the flow, the twists, and the turns. You are such a master story teller! ♥

  17. pattisj January 20, 2016 / 5:31 PM

    I sure thought the challenge was a hit! I’m not sure which would have been worse–the hit or Chas. LOL Good to read your stories again.

  18. philosophermouseofthehedge January 21, 2016 / 8:10 AM

    ” with enough sequins to make a dance mom envious.” I LOVE this line. Perfect image.
    Story made me smile.

    • jannatwrites February 17, 2016 / 12:19 AM

      Thanks for reading, Phil! I’m glad you enjoyed the story 🙂

  19. sonsothunder January 28, 2016 / 10:13 PM

    “Truer Words” dear Jenna … great post

    • jannatwrites February 17, 2016 / 12:16 AM

      Glad you stopped by, Sonsothunder… it’s been a while 🙂

      • sonsothunder February 17, 2016 / 1:18 PM

        Yes it’s been a while, I think you and I have had some down time here and there. I started a new wordpress site though – come by and check it out sometime if you can. techstopcafe.com

        • jannatwrites March 6, 2016 / 10:32 PM

          Thanks Sonsofthunder… I will be by to check it out when I get on my feet. I can’t seem to get a rhythm or balance down and it’s a bit frustrating 😦

        • sonsothunder March 9, 2016 / 10:59 PM

          I’m sorry to hear about that Jenn… I pray thee Lord Jenn is healed.. Amen

        • jannatwrites March 21, 2016 / 11:14 PM

          Thanks for the prayer and kind thoughts, sonsothunder. I appreciate it.

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